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How can I make a Gateway MX6441 notebook computer more responsive?

Posted on 2008-10-16
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Last Modified: 2013-12-10
I am working on my friend's laptop and it's a Gateway MX6441.  It has 512MB RAM, AMD Turion 64 Mobile 1.79 GHz processor, and XP Media Center Edition (SP2) operating system. It has an 80GB hard drive (~68GB for the C:\ partition with 51.3GB free space, and ~7GB for the D:\ (recovery) partition)

She came to me recently describing her problem: "My music in iTunes is choppy (or skips) when it plays."  

My initial thought was "No problem, I'll clean up any spyware/viruses that reside on it and uncheck any unnecessary startup items that are using system resources".

Here's what I've done so far:
--Ran scans with--
*Spybot Search & Destroy 1.6.0
*Super Anti-Spyware
*Spyware Terminator
*Trend Micro Office Scan (This is the AV solution that the University offers that she attends)
*AVG 8.0
*HijackThis (Nothing unusual found)
*ComboFix

**Note: I did not have two Anti-virus software packages installed at the same time.  I first scanned with Trend Micro, removed it, and installed AVG 8.0, and then scanned with that one.  Same with the Anti-spyware packages.  Used one at a time, and did not have any of the resident shields in them turned on.  

--I also used--
*Ccleaner to clear up temp and other files and fix registry errors
*Defragged the hard disk
*chkdsk /r to see if the disk has any physical errors (No errors)
*Manually went into C:\Temp, C:\Windows\Temp, C:\Documents & Settings\<user>\Local Settings\Temp, and any other temp folders and deleted the files within.
*Used msconfig to disable startup items that I deemed unnecessary.
*Used Sysinternals Process Explorer to try to find viruses/spyware that's hidden within processes. (nothing found)
*SpeedFan to check the systems temperatures (Hard Drive: 109 degrees Fahrenheit, CPU: 140 degrees Fahrenheit, Core: 138 degrees Fahrenheit)


--Where it stands now--
Using the several different scans, I did find a little bit of spyware and adware, no viruses or trojans, but it really was pretty clean already.  I've been working on it for two days now and I've gotten a good feel for it on when it will be slow and when it will be okay.  When idle, the computer is very responsive (i.e. mouse moves smoothly, start button expands quickly, moving icons on the desktop is quick, etc.) But the second I do anything that has to query the hard drive or start new processes it slows down to a crawl.  

In the task manager, "System" process (with username "SYSTEM") and the System Idle Process are showing the most usage at any given time while I'm currently in the middle of installing Service Pack 3 from the 316MB redistributable .exe file of SP3.  There are other processes getting CPU time, but these two are getting the most. And BTW, SP3 is taking a verrrry long time to install (way longer than it usually does).

Also, it acts the same way in Safe Mode.

I think that's everything...if not, I'll update this with more info.

Thank you!
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Question by:columbusdata
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by:chingmd
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Increase memory.   Looking at the task veiwer, what's the memory usage like?
Check on the stats of the HD.  in particular spindle speed, access times.

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by:flubbster
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Try this....

Control Panel>Sound and Audio Devices
select "Audio" tab
Under the Sound Playback section, click on "Advanced"
Select the "Advanced" tab

Slide the "Hardware Acceleration" setting all the way down. Reboot and test.
If ok, you can try various settings to see if you can increase the setting without causing the problem again. Most all modern PC's (Laptop and Desktop) are fast enough that they do not need the Hardware Acceleration setting on.

good luck!
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by:columbusdata
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chingmd,

I know that an increase in memory would help, however, I don't think that's the sole culprit here.  WinXP runs pretty well on 512mb. I realize now that I forgot to mention this, but this problem just started happening (several weeks ago, but it's unusable for daily use in it's current state so she's not even kept it on).  What she tells me is: "My roommate noticed I did not have anti-virus software installed, and so she went to our University's website and installed the version they offer.  And since then it's been acting really slow like this."

I'll repeat that I did remove the school's anti-virus, and put on AVG 8.0 in it's place.
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by:chingmd
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Check out msconfig

Modify the startup of the machine and reboot.  See if that helps.  
Run a chkdsk, maybe the disk is starting to exhibit errors?


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by:columbusdata
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Oh, also:

Task Manager:
Physical Memory Total: 456944 (K) (some is shared for video)
Available: 109144 (K)
System Cache: 72448 (K)

Commit Charge: 509M / 1051M (I'm currently installing SP3).
Processes: 55
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by:chingmd
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After you've installed SP3, check on a normal running rate of Commit Charge.  
 Windows starts to swap at about 50% of available physical memory.
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by:EVGAfan
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have you tried a simple old system restore to a date before she installed the anti-adware software? And if you've only got 512MB (minumum for XP is it not?)  why no bump it up to a gig or 2, DDR ram is cheaper than dirt these days, also check paging size (control panel/system/advanced/performance settings/advanced/virtual memory: make sure the page file is at least equal to ram, and set the minimum and maximum to the same size), get a registry cleaner as well, you never know whats lerking in there. Also Why not take an image of her harddrive and see what a fresh install runs like as a last-ditch if nothing else works. Thanks, hope this helps
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by:chingmd
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I'm confident that memory is your issue.   Minimum memory configurations on Microsoft OS's have always been an issue with performance.   The machine will run, but once you start adding resident programs that start at windows launch, it goes downhill fast.

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rid earned 500 total points
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512 is not min RAM size for XP, technically. Playing music is pretty trivial and should work OK, even if other programs are running.

You could:
Set swap space to a fixed value, after defragging the drive (again); if the swap space gets continuous, some claim there is a speed gain.

Test the HD with the maker's utility. Chkdsk doesn't really test performance, it's more about logical consistency in the file system.

Verify that the HD is set to DMA (device manager) and hasn't accidentally reverted to PIO.
/RID
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by:flubbster
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Have you tried the hardware acceleration setting yet??
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by:columbusdata
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I did attempt turning hardware acceleration down completely, but it had no effect.  I myself would also recommend a memory upgrade, but since it worked fine for her purposes for so long with 512mb, I know that there's some other underlying issue that needs dealing with.  

Unfortunately, I had to leave it at work this evening, so I do not have it here with me at home to check and see if the HD is using DMA.  I will certainly be checking back though and will try suggested solutions when I get back to work in the morning.

Thanks everyone so far for your input!!  It is much appreciated.
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by:flubbster
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What is being used for playback? Is it Itunes or Quicktime? What version of ITunes? 7.1 or 7.01 is known to be a problem with XP.

Please read and take a look at the solutions offered here from Apple:

http://support.apple.com/kb/TS1386
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by:columbusdata
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Flubbster,

Unfortunately, I don't think the version of iTunes is relevant in this case either, as the entire system has slowed down so that any sounds (i.e. Windows shut down and logon sounds) are choppy as well.  This to me feels lower level than application.  

Rid--how do I check for the HD to be DMA instead of PIO?
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by:columbusdata
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It's fixed!

Flubbster, just so you know, iTunes is version 8.0.0.35.

In trying to find out how to change the HD to be DMA instead of PIO, I did some quick Google searches.  One solution said to go to Device Manager and uninstall the Primary IDE Controller.  I did this and rebooted.  When it came back up, it felt significantly faster.  Then the OS went out and reinstalled the drivers for the Primary IDE Controller and now it's running like a champ!  Music/sounds do not skip, and I can open other things at the same time and it's very responsive.

So Rid, kudos to you for getting me on the right track!  

Everyone else, I do thank you for your input and suggestions.  This is really a great community of people who care to help!  

Thanks guys!!
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by:columbusdata
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Rid--

I'm still curious though where that setting is, in the event that this happens again and I can just change a setting as opposed to uninstalling the entire controller and having the OS reinstall it's drivers.

Thanks!
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by:columbusdata
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Thanks for your suggestions man!  It got me on the right track and after a little google searching, I was able to get it fixed.  
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by:rid
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I haven't got a windows machine up right now, but if I remember correctly, it is in device manager and you will have to bore down to properties of the hard drive (possibly the controller) and somewhere there is a little properties box that talks about transfer mode or something. Select DMA.
/RID
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by:columbusdata
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Just so everyone knows, I found the setting that Rid was talking about.  If you open up Device Manager and look under IDE ATA/ATAPI controllers, check the properties of the Primary or Secondary IDE channels.  Go to the Advanced Settings tab, and the Transfer Mode combo box will allow you to change from PIO to DMA and vice versa.
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